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One of the biggest challenges we face in youth ministry is finding volunteers. Spending time with students is what we live for, but finding those who share your passion and who are willing to give their time to pour into students is not easy.But what do you do once you find volunteers? Is your job done? Not even close. To build a healthy, sustainable youth ministry, you must pour into them and give them what they need. So, in this post, we identify six things your volunteers need to stay engaged, equipped, and encouraged.

Volunteers Need Purpose

We’ll start this with a story. I once had a young couple with no children who wanted to help with my youth ministry. I was about 19, and this was one of my very first youth ministry jobs. I remember one night, I was getting ready for youth. I had been to the store and picked up the food. I showed up early and opened the doors. I got the game stuff out. I printed off the lessons for the night. I adjusted the lights. I set up the chairs.The couple showed up while I was setting up and asked, “Hey, how can we help?” Wanting to show I had it under control, I told them, “I got it, no worries.”This happened a few times. Sunday Night, I took care of everything. Sunday morning, I had it all handled. One day, the couple approached me and asked to talk with me. They said, “Do you need us?” Of course, I needed them. But my desire to prove that I could do it all was causing them to feel like there was nothing they could do. In my effort to show I was capable, I made them feel unnecessary. Volunteers spend time from their week with youth because they want a meaningful impact and purpose in your ministry. Make sure they know how they can help you. Make a list of ways they can help. Then, show them how to turn those into opportunities to connect with students. A volunteer can ask 2-3 students to help set up chairs. A volunteer and a few students can welcome everyone at the door or help serve pizza. You may need to be the one to give the message, but you don’t necessarily have to do the announcements, welcome, and lead worship. Give volunteers who want to be upfront the opportunity to do those things.

Volunteers Need to Be Appreciated

No matter how much you enjoy something, it’s hard to show up week after week and have no one ever take notice. Unfortunately, with the craziness of your main program, putting out fires, and talking with students and parents, it’s easy not to notice your adult volunteers.However, taking notice and saying thank you is essential. As a leader, you may have no idea what is going on in the lives of your adults before they walk in the door. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe their child is having trouble in school, or they have been up late with a sick child. However, when they walk in the door to your program, they set all that aside, smile big, and love your students. They need to know you appreciate them.You don’t have to make a grand gesture. Sometimes, a “Hey, glad you are here” or “Thanks for coming” goes a long way. Once in a while, set up a leaders-only table in a side room and put out special coffee, candy, or snacks of some kind. One of the easiest and best things you can do is to take time during the week to write thank-you notes. If you are not good at remembering to say thank you, find someone who is and give them the job. What if one of your volunteer’s jobs was to appreciate the other volunteers? Just be sure to thank them as well.For ideas on celebrating volunteers, check this post on Stuff You Can Use: https://stuffyoucanuse.org/celebrating-volunteers-this-christmas/. It says it is for Christmas, but the ideas are great and could work any time.If you use the growing curriculum, they have many more suggestions and ideas for appreciating and celebrating the volunteers provided with each series. If you want to check out Grow Curriculum and support this podcast, you can click here.

Volunteers Need to Be Equipped

It’s hard to build a house without a hammer. It’s hard to bake a cake without a mixer. In the same way, it’s hard for your volunteers to do their job without the proper tools. If your group uses a weekly curriculum, ensure your volunteers have it ready early to review it and prepare. When you ask someone to lead games, gather the supplies and have them ready. To encourage your volunteers to send notes to students, set up a desk or a station where you provide cards, stamps, and envelopes. If you encourage volunteers to visit students’ games and activities, create a Google calendar with all the student’s extracurricular activities so it is easy for them to plan

Volunteers Need Feedback

Do your volunteers know when they are doing a good job? Encourage your volunteers by also letting them know when they are winning and where there is an opportunity to get even better. There are two parts to giving feedback to your volunteers. First, you should communicate what success looks like for their position. Ask yourself, “What is a win for this position?” Maybe your win is when a student steps up in leadership. Or a win could be when your small group members invite three new friends. A youth band leader could win when they have only youth on stage leading worship. However, if you define a win, ensure you and your volunteers are clear. Then, find times to evaluate regularly. This can be as simple as a conversation over coffee or lunch. Just find a time to check in with them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask how their family is. Have them share what’s going on in their area of ministry. Share with them your appreciation for them. If there are some areas they or you notice they are struggling with, talk about those and give them some things to work on.An excellent question is, “What can I do to help you win in ministry?” This is the opportunity for them to share with you things you can do to help them win in ministry.

Volunteers Need Training

You ask your volunteers to pour into your students. One thing you can do is to pour into them. You can do this in many different ways. Send them a blog post or article about youth ministry from sites like stuffcanuse.com or this podcast or about youth culture like cpyu.org. Buy a book like “Help I’m a Small Group Leader” or Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark Devries. Subscribe to online training courses like https://www.dymuniversity.com. Take a few leaders to a conference like Orange Conference, Youth Pastor Summit, GrowCon or take advantage of courses from your denomination.

Volunteers Need Your Prayers

Ok, this is number six. Consider it a bonus, but never forget to do it. It should be first! Pray for your volunteers. Pray for their families, their health, and their lives. Pray that they will be able to be the best small group leader they can be. Pray for their students, their ministry, and their faith.You should constantly be in prayer for your volunteers.

Conclusion

These are five ways you can equip your volunteers for ministry. There are probably many more that I forgot. What would you add to the list?
Want to know more ways to work with your volunteers? Check out this interview with Elle Campbell of Grow Curriculum and Stuff You Can Use on volunteers in youth Ministry (https://studentministryconversations.org/2021/09/09/volunteers-in-ministry-with-elle-campbell-smc-podcast-episode-020/)
Russell Martin

Russell Martin

Author

Russell Martin is the Senior Pastor at Lake Houston UMC and the co-host of the Student Ministry Conversations Podcast. He is a gifted communicator and loves talking with and coaching student pastors through the many challenging aspects of ministry. He loves listening to other podcasts, cooking and growing plants in his own garden.

 

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